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2020-21 Humanities Institute Faculty Fellows

Jordan Fox Besek, Assistant Professor, Sociology

An assistant professor of sociology, Jordan’s research variously explores both the material and ideological aspects of “nature” during a time of planetary urbanization (i.e. how ecological processes and ecological ideas are tied to international flows of goods, people, culture, and capital); how sociological theory can best incorporate both the power and limits of the natural sciences, and the continued relevance of W.E.B. Du Bois. His work has appeared in journals such as The Journal of Classical Sociology, The Sociological Quarterly, Environmental Sociology, Law & Policy, Socius, among many more.

Millie Chen, Professor, Art

Millie’s visual, audio and performative works are intended to interrupt habits of viewing. Materials and methodologies are contingent on the needs of the moment, but at the core of her projects are social inquiry and the use of sensory modes of perception in the generation of knowledge. Millie’s artwork has been shown across North and South America, East Asia and Europe. Her work is present in numerous public collections, and she has produced a number of permanent public art commissions. Her writing has appeared in publications in the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and China.

John Fiege, Assistant Professor, Media Study

John is a filmmaker and photographer whose work explores our relationships with one another and the environment. His award-winning films have played at SXSW, MoMA, Hot Docs, Cannes, and many other festivals and venues around the world, receiving distribution on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Sundance Now, and other platforms. He has received numerous fellowships, grants, and residencies, including from The Redford Center, Doc Society, University at Buffalo’s Humanities Institute, Austin Film Society, Propel Capital, Houston Endowment, Carleton College, Princess Grace Foundation, The University of Texas, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Kodak, and Smithsonian Institution.

Eero Laine, Assistant Professor, Theatre and Dance

Eero studies commercial forms that carry implications for how we think about and approach performance and theatre. He is the author of Professional Wrestling and the Commercial Stage and is currently co-editing a volume entitled Sports Plays. He has co-edited two other volumes examining political and popular performance. Drawing on methodologies from theatre and performance practice, Eero frequently writes and researches collaboratively, working across networks developed through Performance Studies International and other organizations. He is the editor of the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and co-editor of Lateral, the journal of the Cultural Studies Association.

Karin Michelson, Professor, Linguistics

Karin’s research focusses on the languages spoken by the Haudenosaunee, especially Oneida and Mohawk. For the last forty years she has been describing and documenting them, recording what speakers think is important and relevant (and sometimes funny and playful), and delving into the more unusual grammatical patterns present in these languages. She has published a dictionary (Oneida-English, English-Oneida Dictionary 2002) and a volume of texts (Glimpses into Oneida Life 2016), in addition to articles dealing with theoretical issues in linguistics. Currently she is finishing up a dictionary of Mohawk, with annotations referencing historical works.

Randy Schiff, Associate Professor, English

Randy Schiff researches Middle English literature and culture, with special interests in romance, Old French, nationalism, ethnicity, and ecocriticism. The author of Revivalist Fantasy: Alliterative Verse and Nationalist History and the co-editor of The Politics of Ecology: Life, Land, and Law in Medieval Britain, Schiff has published articles in Exemplaria, postmedieval, College Literature, and Speculum. An editor at the journal Exemplaria, Schiff also co-organizes UB’s Environmental Humanities Research Workshop. Schiff is currently preparing monographs on bioexceptionalism in medieval romance, and on Chaucerian systems theory, and is also translating portions of the Old French Crusade Cycle.

Tamara Plakins Thornton, Professor, History

A cultural historian of early America, Tamara is the author of three books, most recently, Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life (2016). Her current book project, Globes and the Global Imagination in America: A Study of People, Ideas, and Objects, explores the intellectual context, social settings, and cognitive impact of celestial and terrestrial globes. Her article on globes and race theory appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly.

Ewa Plonowska Ziarek, Julian Park Professor, Comparative Literature

A Senior Research Fellow of Philosophy, at Western Sydney University, and a Visiting Faculty in the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, University of Maine, Ewa most recently co-authored with Rosalyn Diprose Arendt, Natality and Biopolitics: Towards Democratic Plurality and Reproductive Justice (2019), a book awarded Book Prize of Symposium: Canadian Journal for Continental Philosophy. Her other books include, among others, Feminist Aesthetics and the Politics of Modernism (2012); An Ethics of Dissensus: Feminism, Postmodernity, and the Politics of Radical Democracy (2001); The Rhetoric of Failure: Deconstruction of Skepticism, Reinvention of Modernism (1995). Her interdisciplinary research interests include feminist political theory, critical race theory, and recently, algorithmic culture.

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